translated from Spanish: Coronavirus: Why so many Colombians have hung red rags in their homes in the middle of quarantine for the pandemic

Ruth Grisales’ fridge has some potatoes, onions and a pound of ground beef.
«I’ve got it empty, » he complains. «For the lack of silver, of work, for this situation that we are living,» he adds, in reference to the quarantine for the coronavirus that is already a month old in the Colombian capital, Bogota.
Grisales lives in a two-quarter apartment in Altos de Cazucá, a municipality of 1,200,000 inhabitants in the capital suburb.
On the facade of his house, which he shares with a family of four, Grisales put a red rag «to report that we are hungry, that the need is much for all of us.»
A red rag as a cry for help repeated on the facade of many of its neighbors on this immense hill lined in informal dwellings, and which begins to spread across the country as a new symbol of protest against poverty that lives in the seventh most unequal country in the world, according to the World Bank.
Grisales, a single mother of a child, arrived 7 years ago in Bogota fleeing the violence and lack of work of her people, Puerto Berrío, in the deep interior of the country. Until quarantine, she worked every day of the week in a different house in the north of the city as a domestic servant.
«Now it’s all a turn,» he says. «My work is done and none of the patterns have been dedicated to calling me to ask how I am.»
Grisales wonders how he will pay the 250,000 pesos (US$60) of the next rent; how he’s going to do so as not to prolong hunger: «If we used to eat three courses, you already eat one,» he says.
His case is not very different from that of his neighbours, and millions of Colombians, in a country where half of the employment is informal and is now frozen by quarantine.

The informal, the most affected
In the soacha block where Grisales lives, the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) reports multidimensional poverty of 60%: more than half of people have income gaps, but education, health and work.
It is poverty three times greater than the rest of the country.
Colombians like Ruth, to which most of the 2 million Venezuelans who arrived in the country are most affected by the economic stagnation of quarantine. «What we get one day, we spend on the other,» she explains.
Colombia’s state-agency seeks to alleviate the crisis of the vulnerable with subsidies, soft loans and defaults.
In Soacha, as in other municipalities, the mayor delivers thousands of bags with rice, lentils and flour in schools and squares where people line up hours ago. It also takes tours of the neighborhoods delivering markets.

The mayor of the municipality, Juan Saldarriaga, claims to have thought about the red rag strategy to identify the most vulnerable families and be able to deliver the basic basket without the need for interviews and bureaucracy.
«There are sectors, like the one you were, where 98% of people need that help,» he tells BBC Mundo.
«But there are others where that need is more sporadic, so the flag has served to identify it.»
«The rag not only serves us to locate hunger, but also the neighbors to generate solidarity between them,» says Saldarriaga.

Ruth confirms this: «If it’s not because there are people who collaborate with a little book of something (food), we would have already starved to death.»
As quarantine continues, which in theory ends on April 27, tension in such neighborhoods in Colombia, historically affected by displacement and violence, has increased.
Protests, suppressed by riot police, and shootings have been reported. There was a curfew in Soacha at the weekend.

From symbol of necessity, to symbol of protest
«The rag is on its way from being a call for ‘come and helps me’ to becoming a symbol of protest,» vaticina Marcos González, a historian who experts in culture.
Five months ago, millions of Colombians took to the streets to march against Ivan Duque’s government with saucepans in their hands. Pans and pots warped by the coups of protest became the symbol of political, cultural and economic demands of one of the most significant civil movements in recent history of the country.
«People in despair grab a symbol to vent,» Gonzalez says.
In most Colombian households there is usually a red rag: some call it «bayetilla», others «sweetabrigo», others «panola». It is used to clean dust, cart, windows.

They are also often seen in butchers, or in the hands of the characters who invite restaurants on the roads.
The man’s attire in the Sanjuanero, one of the most important folk dances in the country, wears a red rag – a «tail e’ rooster» – on his neck.
And the Liberal Party, which for a century was one of the two most important political movements in the country, used to «wave the red rag» on behalf of the workers, the weak.
«The rebel parties, influenced by the French Revolution and then the Socialist International, take the red flag to identify themselves, and in Colombia it then became a derogatory way for the conservatives to refer to the liberals as an un rational and pro-popéyic collective,» explains the historian Rodrigo Llano, an expert in this party.
Soacha’s acalide adds: «This is the red of honest and humble work, that of the flag (of Colombia), that of the blood that Colombians shed in search of their freedom from independence until today.»

Carolina Jimenez, a street nail file saleswoman who lives in Cazucá, sees it differently: «We’re screaming we’re hungry.»
«We like rice with egg for breakfast, rib broth for lunch and a chocolate bread for lunch (dinner).»
«But now that’s just reduced to a plate,» he says. «From the rest we are drinking water e’ panela (sugar)».
BBC World asks you about the food you have inside the fridge.
And Jimenez, who is a mother of two and lives with an elderly disabled adult, replies, «No, that fridge of so much without using it was damaged.»

Original source in Spanish

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